By the time that you are reading this article, the NHL will have probably already locked out their players, setting in motion the league’s fourth work stoppage in the past 20 years. This lockout comes after the owners used the nuclear option a mere seven years ago to get a huge rollback in salaries and to install a salary cap to protect smaller market teams.
It’s hard to find anyone who thinks that the NHL isn’t healthy today. $3.3 billion in revenue versus $4 billion for the TV-savvy NBA means that money is flowing in at record levels. The NHL’s television contracts are strong with NBC-Universal really fine tuning their sports network around the NHL and its budding young stars. Small-market teams have been moved, sold and improved in ways that are significant. Billionaire owners have made “have not” teams like Tampa Bay and Buffalo buyers for top free agent talent. Minnesota got the two biggest free agents from the 2012 class in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and proceeded to sign them to long term, nearly $100 million contracts. That was Minnesota I referenced, not the Rangers, Flyers, Maple Leafs or Red Wings.
To ice the cake, the Flyers tendered a $114 million offer sheet complete with $26 million in bonuses owed this year (with or without a lock out) to sought-after defenseman Shea Weber, and small market Nashville bellied up to the bar and paid Weber to stay. At the same time, they are part of 30 owners crying poor loudly enough to refuse to play one more year under the old CBA that brought in record profits? Fans see through this level of bulls***.
The worst insult comes from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when he says that the league has the best fans and that they will come back. Even if that’s how the NHL owners feel, it’s tantamount to saying it’s OK to beat your loving wife and mother of your children because she will never divorce you. It’s abusive, plain and simple.
A lot is different today than five years ago, and fans don’t have to put up with the abuse. Fantasy teams are put on hold. Real world teams are about to be decimated with defections to Europe and Russia by top players. None of it makes being a fan of hockey fun anymore.
The most important message that fans can send to Gary Bettman and NHL as well as the NHLPA is that we can find somewhere else to pass our time and, even more importantly, spend our money.
Do you think the powers that be on both sides of the argument would listen to 50,000 fans saying that they will give up their season tickets for their respective teams for at least one year, not watch hockey on TV and will cancel their Center Ice packages if the two parties can’t get a deal done by a certain date?
That would speak loudly to what matters to both parties. Money talks, and we the fans control the money that goes into the game. With the power of a hash tag or an online petition, fans should unite and vote with their economic power. Like Tina Turner, we should get up off the floor and kick Ike between the legs and tell him never to lay a hand on us, as both parties are abusing the fan base with their brinksmanship. It’s insulting, it’s lame, and it’s bad for business.
The next CBA should be very easy to figure out for both sides, as the issues are pretty simple. If both sides couldn’t get each and every detail right by September 15, 2012 then extending a profitable deal for an extra year isn’t asking too much and leaves nobody in the loser category.
The NFL and NBA split revenue 50/50. The NHLPA would agree to that reduction down from 57 percent, but they don’t want to take a pay cut (who ever does?) as they took one of nearly 25 percent a mere seven years ago. Free agency rules can be tweaked a little. Contract length isn’t worth fighting over, nor is realignment. Nobody wants to travel to Winnipeg as if the team was still in Atlanta. Swap perhaps Columbus and Winnipeg to realign the Eastern and Western conferences, keep travel time and costs lower, and TV schedules more fan friendly.
To define revenue is a matter of reasonable people acting reasonably. It should be a simple matter and include most everything that the league brings in with little room for dispute. With that you have a deal, but as a deal maker in my day job as a publisher – a deal happens between two willing parties.
Right now, the NHL wants to bend the players over like they did seven years ago – extracting another pound of flesh – and the NHLPA is ready to fight. In this fight, the real loser is not the billionaire corporate owners nor the multi-millionaire players; it’s the fans. I warn both sides, however, to beware of the abused fan, as there are so many other places to invest one’s entertainment dollars.
There is nothing entertaining about listening to Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr yap about money, power and a meaningless public relations battle. They both need to be locked in a room and get a deal done that both sides can live with… today.